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Who Takes Care of the Caregiver

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By: Julie Ireton

Every Friday morning at Abbotsford at the Glebe Centre, seniors who have taken on the role of caregiver to a spouse can grab a coffee and conversation with like-minded men and women.

“We plan for retirement. We don’t plan for caregiving,” said Janet Kuntz the volunteer facilitator of the caregivers’ coffee club at Abbotsford.

Kuntz, an active member of community, found herself a caregiver for 7 years. She knows that a spouse with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can alter a relationship.  Now she helps connect others.

“Once the caregiving starts, you have to find a way to still enjoy life and still take care of yourself, while taking on the new responsibilities for someone else,” said Kuntz. “Here’s a support group to help with those responsibilities and still find joy.”

The caregiver coffee club meets at 10 am every Friday morning for two hours to casually chat and then listen to a guest speaker. They share advice and information about local services and supports. Many of those who attend the group are over 75.

Since the club began in September, speakers have dropped in to talk about a variety of topics, including respite care, retirement and long term care homes, banking, finance, and tax issues according to Kuntz.

She said many attendees are coping with the changes and stressful situations presented when a husband or wife is diagnosed with dementia.

Others, including Jill Vickers, come because they’re helping care for elderly parents.

Vickers, a former professor at Carleton University, lost her husband last year and is now trying to handle the stress of managing her mother’s struggle with advanced Parkinson’s disease on her own.

“We talk about our own circumstances,” said Vickers. “It’s been a real lifesaver. It lets me focus on more than being a caregiver.”

Those members who drop in on Fridays, 10 am to noon, contribute a dollar for a cup of tea or coffee. There’s no long term commitment to the club or need to sign up.

For some, this casual connection to other caregivers helps the senior realize they’re not alone and there are others they can turn to for understanding.

“You come from a world where you’re having to repeat things and constantly telling their spouse what the next step is,” said Kuntz. “Sometimes you feel like you’re going crazy. So this group is for people to say I’ve had the same challenge and this is what I did.”

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